Gustavo Menezes ensured that the fight for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP2 class crown will go down to the wire in the Bahrain season finale later this month, after racing to a fifth consecutive podium finish last weekend in Shanghai (4-6 November).
Defending LMP2 World Champion Menezes headed to the technically challenging and abrasive Shanghai International Circuit in the knowledge that he and his Signatech Alpine Matmut team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão needed to outscore their championship-leading rivals if he was to keep his title defence alive.
A troubled run throughout practice and traffic for Negrão on his fastest lap in qualifying conspired to restrict the N°36 crew to a frustrated fifth on the starting grid for the 6 Hours of Shanghai, but a feisty opening salvo from Lapierre under grey, overcast skies saw the Frenchman steer clear of various incidents to move up to second.
Negrão maintained that position before handing over to 2016 FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ Menezes as the race approached mid-distance. In front of an enthusiastic crowd, the talented young American produced a flawless performance during his double stint behind the wheel of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, after which Lapierre returned to the cockpit for the final push.
The runner-up spoils at the chequered flag – the result of a considered approach and a strategy focussed on efficiency – were just reward for a determined effort in a memorable contest not short on drama, tension and excitement.
The outcome also means Menezes will enter the season finale in Bahrain on 18 November still in outside contention for the fiercely-disputed FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers, having further narrowed his deficit to the top of the table to 23 points – with 26 remaining in play under the Middle Eastern floodlights.
“Another podium and another strong finish – it’s fair to say the end result was better than we might have anticipated at the start of the weekend,” acknowledged the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award.
“Shanghai is a very difficult circuit to get right from a car balance perspective, and we struggled to find the Alpine A470’s sweet spot during practice and qualifying. We feared it would likely be a similar story over the longer runs in the race, but we pulled together and dug deep. The engineers Olivier and Tom worked miracles to turn things around, and the progress made allowed us to establish a much better direction with the set-up by Sunday morning.
“Nico made an excellent start, and then André managed to keep up a very good rhythm before handing over to me. I was able to close a little bit on the leaders during my first stint, but it’s always a balancing act between putting pressure on the car in front and managing your tyres and fuel consumption.
“As we only changed the rear tyres at the pit-stop, I had to deal with some understeer but we kept out of trouble when others came unstuck and that paid off. Although we probably didn’t have the outright speed to win in Shanghai, I think second place was an accurate reflection of our performance and a very solid result in the circumstances.
“Most significantly, of course, it means we will go to Bahrain still in with a chance of defending our LMP2 title. Whilst that is admittedly the longest of long shots and we will need to rely on other factors outside of our control, I can promise you we will be giving it our absolute all right the way down to the very last lap!”